Digging into the Latest Quinnipiac Polling Numbers for the Ohio Governor's Race

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, left, is trailing Gov. John Kasich in the latest Quinnipiac poll.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, left, is trailing Gov. John Kasich in the latest Quinnipiac poll.
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Quinnipiac Pollster Peter Brown says the fact that Kasich has a 15-point lead is only one piece of good news for the governor in this poll.

"He is over the magic 50 percent figure," Brown said.

Brown says more than 50 percent surveyed now approve of Kasich’s job performance, think he’s receptive to the needs of ordinary Ohioans and think he should be re-elected.

Compare that with February, when Kasich only led by five points and was struggling to get to that 50 percent threshold.

What changed? Ohio Republican Party Spokesman Chris Schrimpf says it’s that voters are learning more about Kasich.

"The governor is getting the message out," Schrimpf said. "His record of accomplishment is being told and the voters are responding to his personal story as well as the accomplishment and the turnaround that Ohio has had since he took office."

There’s one major thing that’s changed from February to now. Kasich and the Republican Governors’ Association have paid for TV ads for him, throughout the state, in prime time programming. And pollster Brown says that is important.

"You move numbers in modern American politics through TV," Brown said. "And obviously, Mr. Kasich has been up with, I’m told, with close to a million-dollar buy over the last month or so. And Mr. FitzGerald, as I understand, has not been on television."

True enough. Democrat Ed FitzGerald hasn’t bought any TV ads. He doesn’t have nearly as much money in his campaign war chest….just $1.5 million to Kasich’s more than $8 million.

"Look, every campaign I’ve ever been in my life, I have been outspent, sometimes by three-to-one and sometimes by four-to-one," FitzGerald said. "The most powerful thing in politics is not television commercials. I’m not saying money doesn’t matter. We'll have our television commercials soon enough.

In the meantime, FitzGerald says he’ll continue to hold events around the state to talk about his ideas. But right now, 63 percent of voters surveyed in this poll say they don’t know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion about him.

WKSU's M.L. Schultze spoke with John Green of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron about the governor's race.

The poll is the first since February, when Kasich and FitzGerald were running a fairly tight race, and the first since this month’s primary made FitzGerald and Kasich their parties’ official nominees.

The University of Akron’s John Green notes it’s also the first poll since the well-funded Kasich and groups like the Republican Governors’ Association started launching biographical and attack TV ads.

“One of the big problems that Mr. FitzGerald has faced—and it often happens with challengers in a big, diverse state like Ohio—he’s not very well known outside of northeastern Ohio. Now if you’re a Democratic gubernatorial nominee, it’s good to be known in Northeast Ohio. But to be competitive, one has to be known throughout the state," Green said.

“And that is a tough challenge when one doesn’t have a lot of money," Green continued, "because the easiest way to become known and be known quickly is to go on television, and that’s very expensive.”

That’s especially so in Ohio, he says, which has as many as nine distinct media markets.

“One needs to be on television in all those areas," he said.

Green says Kasich’s ads are playing against a backdrop that – fairly or not – usually benefits or hurts an incumbent: the economy. And though the Quinnipiac poll shows Ohioans still have reservations about the state’s economy, “people’s perception of the economy is more positive,” and “Kasich does get positive marks from voters for his handling of the economy.”

Another key number in the poll is found in the answer to the question of whether Kasich “cares about the needs and problems of people” like them. Fifty-three percent of those polled says, yes.

Green says that’s important – and a bit unusual.

“In some ways, Gov. Kasich is a very orthodox Republican: lower taxes, balanced budgets, help businesses expand," Green said. "But he has done a couple of unorthodox things, for instance, supporting the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio, which was not real popular with some members of his party."

Green continued, “And a majority of Ohioans – a slim majority, but a majority – feel that Kasich cares about people like them. And that has often been a problem for a conservative office holder, whatever else their virtues may be, in convincing people that they really care about ordinary people.”

There is one relatively bright spot in the poll for FitzGerald: Ohioans are evenly divided when it comes to abortion – with 29 percent approving and 29 percent disapproving how Kasich has handled such issues.

“Gov. Kasich has taken a fairly strong pro-life position in some of his legislation, in the state budget and so forth, and Ohioans are pretty evenly divided on that issue," Green said. "And it may very well be that that’s an issue that could help generate Democratic turnout.”

And, Green cautions: This is May and this is Ohio, which is “a very diverse and evenly divided state.” History suggests the margin in the gubernatorial race will narrow and “events can play a big role.

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